How to Tour According to The Sharp Shadows

By Timothy Dillon

The Sharp Shadows rehearsing for their tour at The Sweatshop.

BreakThru Radio: How many groups have you guys been in?

Steve Bailey: I have been in four actual bands and a handful of other smaller jam sessions sort of deals. Groups that never made it out of the practice space.

Max Schneller: Two. High school and now.

Thomas Chalifour: I was in the Reaganauts with Steve, and I’ve been in this band for about a year. Since around Septermber October-ish.

BTR: Did you do a lot of touring with the Reaganauts?

TC: We stuck to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, because we were based out of central Mass. We played mostly Providence. We played the cape, couple small towns, I think on an air force base at a community center. A friend of ours had a barn and we played out there at an outdoor music “festival”, big quotes over festival. (Laughs)

SB: I think this is actually the first real one for me. I had played out of state a couple of times, but this is the first where there is a string together of dates.

BTR: Whats different about this tour than the other gigs that you played before?

TC: This we specifically said we wanted to play a bunch of dates in a row. Then it was, how far away can we go? How can we logistically do that? So we figured, why not hit the mid atlantic states. We looked at all the major metro areas. Steve did a lot of the booking for this. We looked at bands in a similar scope as us, saw where they were playing, and where we could get booked without a promoter or a manager. We looked at places we could contact venues directly.

SB: It’s planning. When you’re doing a tour it requires a lot of planning on your part and on the part of the venues you’re playing for. At this level you have to convince these people there is a reason to book you. This point in history, live music, is in sort of a money losing state. These clubs don’t have any incentive to book you unless you’re going to bring in people and make money for them. Unless they just like putting on music, which I would say at this point, is few and far between.

You’re not just booking a show, you’re booking several shows and you need to make sure that it’ll all work out. You need to plot your way along and figure out the best way to get to all these places. There is really no one knocking down your door to do it for you.

Unloading the gear for Wednesdays show.

BTR: Max, as a drummer, what would you want to say to other drummers about doing a do it yourself tour?

MS: First piece of advice, I would say, is to learn to play on kits that are not yours. We were lucky to get other people to let us use our kits, so I had to bring very little. And if you’re a dynamic player you can move from kit to kit and it’ll be ok. If you get use to one kit, thats great you can do some amazing stuff with that kit, but the second you play on someone else’s kit, you’re starting over.

BTR: How important was you having a car to this tour?

MS: It was extremely important! (Laughs) We could have rented a car of a van, but its money we are never going to see again and that would have made it bittersweet. Me having a car significantly reduced the amount of money we had to spend on this tour. I wouldn’t say it was integral because we were planning on doing it one way or another but it was nice to have the option.

BTR: How much saving did you have to do for this tour?

TC: For me it fell between work so it wasn’t a big deal. The other guys had to take time off. I put a couple hundred bucks aside. We’ve been lucky enough to stay with friends the entire tour, so we didn’t have to spend on lodging. Basically gas, food, and booze, are the three main things we have to buy. I think on tolls we only spent seventeen bucks. Gas will probably come out to 75 or 80 bucks.

SB: Max put together a pretty good spreadsheet for us to help keep track of the expenses.

BTR: And you guys split everything?

TC: Yes. We split three ways. We always know who owes who.

Steve Bailey setting up next to the borrowed drum kit.

BTR: Max, you mentioned to me that you really like showmanship. I’ve also seen you guys play a few times, what does your showmanship bring to touring?

MS: Last night I wore the “Eyes Wide Shut” mask. For no reason I’ll put on the horse head mask. I try to grab their attention. It’s like magic, you have the three steps where you show people something they know, then you show something they don’t know, and then you bring it back. I like that middle part because people go, ‘what the fuck is going on?’

BTR: Does the mask ever make it difficult to play?

MS: YES. (Laughs) It’s very difficult to play but that’s not the point. The point is doing something different to draw them in, and then it’s totally worth it.

BTR: Do you think it is easier for a punk rock band to do a DIY tour?

SB: Absolutely. But there are others that are even easier. Folk artists have it a lot easier. If they can do it on their own, they can just tour by bus. People have been doing that for years. Jonathan Richmond, who was a guy from Boston in the Modern Lovers and then started touring on his own, he would tour with his nylon string on a Greyhound bus. The less people you have the easier its going to be. To be honest, I don’t like to have a large band, because I don’t like arranging that. But for the three of us, its pretty democratic, so that works out for us. But really, at any level or size, if you’re willing to compromise, there are ways of making it work.

BTR: If you were going to do another tour in the future, what would you do differently and where would you like to play?

TC: For one, I would have been more communicative with the venues. It can be difficult to communicate with places that don’t have a promoter. That’s why we lost our Delaware show. All out emails said July 30th and then we show up and they had been expecting us back on June 30th. They offered us a make up date of August 17th and we were like, no, no thank you. We wanted to do this all in one week because we have day jobs and we would very much like to keep them.

SB: I would love to make it across country, especially the midwest. There is this weird precedent where a lot of bands that are huge but sort of get ignored in terms of popularity, do well because they do well in the midwest. And that’s because they took the time to play there. A similar microcosm is Japan, which is another place I’d love to play. Bands get huge in Japan because they bother to go there. Some bands cant afford it but Japan is very appreciative of bands that are willing to come and play. Allister, a kind of like Green Day rip off band, god bless them, but thats what they were, and they were huge in Japan. They were almost as big as Green Day, in Japan, because they took the time to tour there. On the coasts, I think we take arts for granted, because you walk out your door and its everywhere if you want it.

MS: I don’t know a lot about the music scene, I don’t know a lot about great music cities or great bands to play with, but I would want to go to places where people normally do not tour. You get more credit that way. You show up and not many tours come through there and so people will show up to see you. And I’d like to play with the bands in those cities where we play, so we could give something back. We take a lot by touring. We are asking for people to pay attention to us who don’t know us. We are asking to use equipment. We are asking for people to choose us over local bands. So it would be nice to play with people we can give something to, like groups who want to come to New York. A mutually beneficial thing.

TC: I would like to play colleges. College kids don’t have any place to go. I remember bands coming through our college and we would always go out to see them because we didn’t have anything else to do. Even on a week day you could count on seeing some kids at a college show. And considering student governments have money to pay you, money wouldn’t be a bad thing. Last night we played on a wednesday night and it was sparsely attended. At the end of the night I went to settle up and I went up to the door and she told me flatly, that the door didn’t make up enough to cover the house. I looked at Steve and I said, “Run.” I would like to play at colleges because they have money and usually pull a crowd.


BTR: Any last words of wisdom or advice some a band thinking about doing their first tour?

MS: Just do it. It’s so easy. Well… I don’t mean it’s easy to copy what other people are doing. We can’t do a 20 city international tour. So we don’t try to do it. If you want to do 20 cities and bring your full kit but you don’t have enough money to get a van, well find a way to not bring your full kit, or make it 10 cities and use the money you do have. Or find a way to make the money? Save up or find someone who will give it to you, either way, build up to it. Just make it happen. People don’t give you things. I’m not saying people are nice, but we come to them and ask. You have to be the person who initiates your own tour.

For more info on The Sharp Shadows, check out their bandcamp.

All photos by Elizabeth Wagner and Timothy Dillon. For more, check out our photoblog or BTR Today Flickr set.